Update: As of the end of 2021, the Fagradalsfjall volcano eruption has unfortunately been declared over. While you can no longer see the active eruptions, the massive lava fields are, of course, still around, and are extremely cool to visit.
August 3, 2022 Update to the Update: Following a series of earthquakes the past weekend, the Fagradalsfjall volcano is once again erupting! If you are considering visiting to see the eruptions, I cannot recommend it enough. Make sure you check local advisories before going to ensure it is safe for visitors.
Iceland has a brand new volcano! The Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland was first seen erupting in March 2021. Unlike many other volcanoes in Iceland, it is not located in the more remote, eastern parts of the country, but is just outside the capital city of Reykjavik!
We hadn’t heard about the new volcano in Iceland (it was brand brand new at the time) when we booked our plane tickets, so I feel INCREDIBLY lucky that it was still erupting and we got to see it while we were there. Matthew and I were both giddy about seeing it (you don’t often see my husband giddy) and man oh man oh man – the volcano delivered BIG TIME.
We went to see it on the very first day we were in Iceland and we loved it so much that we went back again a week later, just hours before our flight left to take us home. It was a bucket list item for sure and I was completely blown away.
The volcano is always changing and it will certainly be different in some ways when you go.
Let’s jump into just exactly what the hike, the lava fields, and eruptions were like at the Fagradalsfjall volcano at the beginning of June 2021.
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Getting to the New Iceland Volcano
The new volcano is located in the midst of some small mountains and is just 30 minutes from both Reykjavik and the airport (they make a sort of triangle). You can see the smoke from miles away on the roads, rising over the hills.
There is a large, unpaved parking lot that has been made with tons of parking spaces. There are no bathrooms or facilities of any kind here, just a cleared dirt area to park your car. From the parking lot, you *might* be able to see the sky light up red and orange if there is an eruption happening, there are lower clouds, and if it’s dark enough.
From the parking lot, you walk about 300 yards to reach the official start of the trail. The trail has been bulldozed and cleared almost the whole way up, making it a really nice hiking path. It’s 2.6 miles to the viewpoint and it took us almost exactly an hour to walk up, with a few stops to look at lava.
Starting the Volcano Trail
The beginning of the trail is on relatively flat ground. After about a half a mile, the trail starts to rise dramatically and does get fairly steep. But it’s totally worth it!
After climbing for a bit, you round one corner of the path where we finally got our first look at lava fields. The first one we saw was flowing over a ridge and down into the valley below. Climbing to the next switchback got us to the first real vantage point of the immense lava fields. I could not believe how incredibly vast they were – the lava has spread over a mile from the volcano and covers a couple of square miles!
There is one spot where you can go down and get really close to the end of the flow and it is SO COOL! The lava is mottled and craggly and so textured.
It has been heaped on top of itself and there are layers upon layers of intricate designs in the lava. It was reminiscent of a snowplow pushing piles of snow around and all the ice and snow chunks being shoved on top of each other. The lava has a pretty similar process happening – the lava is being forced on itself as new lava is being expelled from the volcano and the pressure buckles and heaps the lava at the leading edge.
Exploring the Lava Fields
The lava field we went up to was actually pretty tall, probably about 10-15 feet high. It got even deeper farther in, probably 30-50 feet deep in some places! And it is still getting deeper as it has filled in a valley and now has to continue to build up. It was unreal being up close to it (and definitely safe – we were still far away from the actual eruption site).
This lava field was still hot – we could feel the heat emanating in waves – like the open door of an oven. We could see molten lava still glowing, moving and oozing both within the structure and right at the edge. It was crazy to see that while the lava looks static (and much of the rock has hardened) it is not a static structure; it is still moving. Just like how glaciers look frozen but are actually flowing, these lava fields are still actively pushing forward, building, and changing shapes.
The sound of the lava moving and hardening was really interesting too! You could actually hear them craggle and groan and break and crack as you are standing there. It sounded like a combination of broken glass and pinging metal.
The second time we went, we brought hotdogs and a fork with us to roast a hot dog over a section of oozing lava. And it totally worked, haha! Highly recommend you bring snacks to roast when you go (and something long, even a fork will help, and a glove).
What is the Lava Rock Like?
The cooling lava itself was also super interesting to look at. There were some smooth areas, but a lot of the lava fields, especially the spots where we were able to get up close to it, were really craggly, and had relatively sharp edges. It’s the newest rock on earth, and it hasn’t had time to get weathered and smooth yet! It is fairly scratchy and will catch on fabric. It has an almost glassy feel on the outside, but still rough if that makes sense.
There are two types of lava actively working here. There is the aa lava, which is the extremely craggy, slow moving, pushing and building on itself, and then there is the pahoehoe lava, which is relatively fast moving and smooth. It looks more like a river or the way mercury will flow, very viscous. Picture pouring syrup on a pancake.
You could see the interplay between these different lava types throughout the field. The majority of the fields we passed were the aa but you could still see the incursions both past and current of pahoehoe flowing through and around it.
From the halfway point on, you basically get a good view of the lava fields the rest of the hike and it is IMMENSE. It is very very impressive how incredibly big the lava fields are.
As you come around the mountain, the trail takes you right next to some that are much more cooled – you can touch and walk on it a bit. This trail was actually only available the first time we hiked – a week later, the lava had covered the trail in this area.
As you approach but before you are actually at the “summit” of the viewing point you may catch a glimpse of the eruption, but being at the main viewing point and seeing the complete eruption with all of its spewing lava is like nothing I have ever experienced.
This volcano is very unique in that it behaves a lot like a geyser (currently at least). The eruptions happen 5-10 minutes apart and last about 3 minutes in total.
The first thing you see with an eruption is lava starting to ooze out the side of the volcano. It’s not a lot, almost just a trickle of lava that runs out the side and down. This trickle builds into a torrential pour, with lava flowing and churning, bright and vibrant orange.
Then the lava starts to sputter up inside the volcano. You can see little bursts of lava cresting over the top. Finally, the big eruptions come! Usually there were a bunch of bigger bursts of lava and one really big burst. However, the eruptions varied! Sometimes there was a huge burst and sometimes the bursts were a little smaller.
Another thing that was so interesting to me was how many of your senses were engaged! Obviously the sights were incredible, but also the eruptions smelled like fireworks. It sounds like a torrential downpour or thunder, and you can feel the heat of it from hundreds of yards away. And if you want to experience taste, roast a hot dog or marshmallow over the lava, ha!
Still, it is hard to express how all encompassing the experience was. The whole thing was just awe-inspiring. You see the lava start to flow and you realize that it is literally tons of rock moving like water. The heat and sound envelop and press against you and it impresses just how powerful the forces of the earth can be.
And this is such a rare balance where it is “tame” enough that you can get close while still knowing it is so much more powerful than you.
It’s like looking at the tiger on the other side of the bars and knowing that you’re “safe”, but realizing that you would never want to be in there with it. The fact that this is happening with something as volatile and literally explosive as a volcano is incredible and we loved every second of it.
The Differences During the Week We Went
It was also really interesting because just in the week between the first and second time we visited, the eruption and the viewing site had changed somewhat.
First, the lava flow had gotten so high that it actually covered a section of the path leading to the viewpoint we went to the first week, so the second week the viewpoint was another ridge farther back.
Second, the lava in the eruption the second week was actually flowing over the whole ridge of the volcano. The first week, it didn’t have enough power to get over most of the side, but the second week it often crested and crashed over the sides.
There also was slightly more time between eruptions – instead of 5-7 minutes between eruptions in the first week, the second week was closer to 10 minutes – but the eruptions did have more power the second week!
We found it really interesting to see the changes that had happened in just one week. There is another viewpoint on the ridge to the west of the volcano via trail “B” (the trail we did, “A”, leads to the south). It may soon be the preferred location as it will let you get much closer than what the “A” trail will allow in the future if the lava keeps pushing the access points farther away.
The Essential Piece of Gear to Bring
This lightweight tripod is a volcano viewing essential, in my opinion! It’s small and light enough to pack down into a backpack, but it let us take really steady video of the eruptions (which you will definitely want!) and zoomed in pictures. This one is only $20 but was super handy!
We stayed and watched the eruptions for a long time – it was just so incredible we did not want to leave! There were a lot of people there, both Icelandic and foreigners. One person we talked to said they saw a school group of children walking up. There were a lot of parents with small children as well that were local. We also met several people that had flown in just for the volcano and were only staying a day or two just to experience this amazing phenomenon.
No one knows for sure how long this new volcano in Iceland will last (although recent predictions I read said they thought it would be around for a couple of months more), and it will certainly continue to change. If you have a chance to go see it, I cannot recommend it enough. It was easily the coolest thing we saw in Iceland and one of the most jaw-dropping things I have ever experienced!
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